To tell you that cops lie is like telling you the sun rises in the east. A generation ago, people wouldn’t have believed, but today it’s so well known that it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Then again, it’s so well known that many now believe that a cop couldn’t tell you the time of day without lying, just as ridiculously wrong as pretending cops don’t lie.
And to explain, yet again, that there are false accusations of sexual assault and rape seems too obvious for words. The reason for “believe women” started to blunt the assumption that when a woman accused a man, she was not to be taken seriously. Over time, it’s become that she can’t be doubted. So here we are, pretending women don’t lie.
Rachel Richardson, a Black member of Duke’s volleyball team playing in a match at Brigham Young University, claimed that she and other Black teammates were “targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match,” such that they had to face a crowd amid which slurs “grew into threats.”
But a sporting match such as this one is attended by thousands and is well recorded, both professionally and also by anyone in attendance with a cellphone. To date, no one has offered evidence that corroborates Richardson’s claims of racist verbal abuse, either independently or as part of an investigation by B.Y.U. There is nothing comparable in the security footage or in the television feed the school took of the match. No one at the match representing either school has described hearing such a thing happening. No witnesses have been reported as coming forward.
John McWhorter goes to great pains to make two points clear. There is racism and he is not accusing Richardson of lying, even though the evidence is overwhelming, beyond overwhelming, that what she claims didn’t happen. Ironically, nowhere is there a mention of the fan who was blamed and barred for life for having screamed racist things at Richardson, which never happened. But I digress.
We indulge in mental gymnastics to come up with an explanation for the inexplicable. When that runs dry, the next level down involves the argument that it could have happened, it has happened in the past, and even if a lie, it should start a conversation.
The people making such claims appear to be thinking of horrors of the past and claiming that what supposedly happened to them shows that those horrors persist. It is difficult not to notice, for example, the parallel between Richardson’s claim and Jackie Robinson’s being called the N-word from the stands in the 1940s.
Of course, what happened to Jackie Robinson happened. What “happened” to Richardson didn’t. And what happened in the 80 or so intervening years to our society’s racial tolerance goes unmentioned.
I join McWhorter in emphasizing that nothing about this means there isn’t racism and racists, but that there are also lies and lying.
The classic, and perhaps officially inauguratory, example — and this is in no way to equate Richardson’s possible exaggeration to the prior, extraordinary event — was Tawana Brawley’s claim in 1987 to have been kidnapped and raped by a group of white men and then left in the woods wrapped in a garbage bag, covered with feces and scrawled with racial slurs. The sheer luridness of that scenario was always a clue that Brawley staged the whole thing, which she was proved to have done. A U.S. Justice Department report concluded that in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Officer Darren Wilson did not callously shoot Michael Brown dead despite his having his hands up in surrender, despite Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson’s claim to that effect.
White lacrosse players at Duke did not rape a Black stripper at a party, despite the 88 Duke professors who published a newspaper ad implying the lacrosse players were guilty. And of course, the actor Jussie Smollett’s story that MAGA-hatted homophobic racists jumped him in the wee small hours and put a noose around his neck has not held water. Nor is it an accident that the scenario sounds less like real life than something that would have happened on the television soap opera “Empire” that Smollett was starring in.
Back when people, particularly judges, would challenge us to “explain” why a cop, who didn’t know the defendant from a hole in the wall and harbored no animus toward him, would lie to convict him, we had no good answer. How would we know why Officer Pantsafire lied? All we know was that he did.
People do bad things, and those bad things run the gamut of raping, shouting racist slurs and beating people in cuffs for no good, or lawful, reason and then claiming they resisted arrest and the officer feared for his life. One would hope we would learn something from Tawana Brawley, Duke Lacrosse or the great many claims of rape that weren’t. The lesson isn’t that bad things don’t happen, but that people also lie for reasons that can’t be explained.
While we must always be maximally aware that racism does still exist, we must also know that not all claims of racist abuse hold water and that being aware of this does not disqualify one from being an antiracist. True antiracists know that Black people exhibit the full scale of human traits and tendencies, including telling tall tales — and yes, even about matters involving racism.
People lie. Men are people. Women are people. Blacks are people. Whites are people. We’re all people, no matter what combination of intersectionality you raise. And people lie. Distinguishing between the truth and the lie matters, and if your bias is to believe regardless of the facts, then you empower liars.